- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A proposal passed by Utah state legislators that would allow wood burning for cooking on even the worst air quality days should be vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert to ensure the state is doing everything possible to combat the causes of murky winter air, an environmental group said Thursday.

Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, said at a news conference in Salt Lake City that the state has taken some important steps to improve air quality in recent years but population growth means Utah can’t let up. The proposal is written too broadly and would allow for all kinds of wood burning so long as the people claim they’re cooking.

“We need to look under every rock, as they say, to find ways to reduce emissions and solve our air quality problem,” said Pacenza, who was flanked by supporters holding signs that read, “Clean Air Now.”

Herbert’s spokesman Paul Edwards said in a statement that the Republican governor is studying the issue and plans to meet with people on both sides in the coming week. He said the governor recognizes the importance of giving the Air Quality Board the authority to make decisions, but also understands the private sector’s wanting “greater flexibility.”

Hebert has until March 29 to sign or veto the bills the Legislature passed.

The measure easily passed both the House and Senate. It was pushed by Traeger Grills, a company with headquarters in Salt Lake City that sells wood pellet grills.

Current state law prohibits most forms of wood burning to heat homes on the worst air days, but doesn’t specifically address wood burning for cooking.

The Utah Air Quality Board has also asked Herbert to veto the bill, saying it would negatively impact the state’s ability to meet federal air quality standards.

“Enforcement of solid-fuel burning during a no-burn period could be circumvented by individuals claiming to be warming a can of beans,” the board wrote in the March 3 letter to Herbert.

Air quality issues are a major problem in the winter in Utah, which suffers from inversions that doctors warn can cause health problems, especially for pregnant women, people with asthma and older people.

Utah’s winter inversions are a phenomenon in northern Utah’s urban corridor fueled by weather and geography. Cold, stagnant air settles in the bowl-shaped mountain basins, trapping tailpipe and other emissions that have no way of escaping to create a brown, murky haze that engulfs the metro area.

Pacenza criticized Traeger Grills for lobbying for the legislation and not being willing to accept that their customers need to make the sacrifice of not grilling the bad air days when wood burning is banned. There were 18 such days this winter, according to state figures.

The news conference was held outside the company’s headquarters to make the point.

CEO Jeremy Andrus said their wood pellet grills aren’t meaningful contributors to bad air and that Utah families should be able to choose when they grill.

The company, which moved its headquarters to Salt Lake City in the fall of 2015, lobbied for the legislation to clarify ambiguity in current law about when people can use wood burning measures to cook, he said. He said the assertion they don’t care about the air is misguided.

“We as a company care deeply about this environment,” said Andrus, a father of six. “We are a young company of millennials. We’re outdoorsman. We ski, we hike, we bike. We live in this. We love Utah. And we care about the air that we breathe.”

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